Sunday, 3 October 2010

express yourself

Among other things, I find myself right now helping the wonderful people at Pizza Express to launch their new restaurants in a project called Think Big.

Why would I be doing that? (Apart from the fact that I love American with extra tuna.)

Well, believe it or not, Pizza Express have decided to put great conversation at the heart of their restaurants.We started in Richmond and now we're spreading the love of conversation to Fulham, Balham, Newbury, Bournemouth and St Ives with Sheffield, Brighton and Brent Cross to come.

What Pizza Express have realised is that what people want when they go out to eat is a chance to talk - to really talk and to really be with friends, families, lovers and partners. To embrace conversation; to listen to each other, to celebrate the experience of actually being together.

Not virtually. Real-ly.

They've engaged an incredible team of people including Abe Rogers to totally redesign the physical spaces and make them acoustically conducive to conversation.

And they've asked me to help every single member of staff to understand the essential ingredients of conversation. (They even let me help them develop a new process for deciding who to bring into the team, in one of the most enlightened series of talent assessments I've ever come across.)

And... (which is for me the most important thing and my barometer for working with any commercial organisation) they actually believe in what they're doing.

Will it help them make money? I hope so - they're an ethical business.

Will it catch the media's attention? Maybe - it's a good story.

Since first writing this post the media attention has well and truly been captured and I am now fully versed in the wicked ways of sloppy journalism and certain people's predilection for fiction reported as fact. Oh well, I'm a big boy, I can take it. Here's a slightly less absurd piece by Reuters:

So never mind the hype. Does it matter? Well actually yes, in a small way I believe it does.

I can honestly say that this is a business that looks after its people. That values its people. That believes in its people. (The Head of HR started as a waitress.)

So - a company of integrity that creates great food, that believes good conversation is an important thing and a business that's putting its money where its customer's mouths are...

Why would I say no?

So - for the new teams - this is your chance to make your mark; to be exceptional; to express yourselves and to be part of something genuinely fresh and imaginative. Grasp it with both your floury hands.

And here, in the new language we've created are the podcasts I told you about, to help you get those dialogue skills running through your bodies like oxygen:

First, here's an introduction to great conversation. A big download for a small but lovely animation or you can watch it right here:

Then there's Time and Space - what we need to create in the beautiful surroundings of the Pizza Express in Richmond.

The first big skill we talked about was Step In Step Out or the way we navigate our way through a conversation..Making sure we start and stay together on the journey.

We talked about using our Eyes and Ears in the ways we listen.

There's the skill we called Take Me There - the ways we can describe things to people and enjoy the richness and variety of language.

We talked about how to Stay Close, checking that we understand exactly what it is that people are trying to express.

And then there's how to Dig Deeper, probing gently to open doors and find out more.

There's the skill of asking the question: Who Knows? which is all about keeping an open mind, resisting the temptation to assume we know who someone is and what they're going to say. Suspending that deep instinct to make quick judgements.

Don't forget how important it is to Make It Together; to build ideas and allowing even the most fragile of suggestions to grow and blossom before our eyes.

We talked about how Everyone Counts and how important it is to keep a conversation balanced by making sure we gently ask those smaller voices to take part too.

Dare to Share is the name we gave to honestly saying what's on your mind (and sharing it). Disclosing what you're thinking to everyone else.

And finally, we reminded ourselves that sometimes the most important thing we can give to anyone (including ourselves) in a conversation is Time to Think

Enjoy listening to them. And use them.

Express yourself.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

in parts

So today I have finished editing the conversation between Jane Prinsep and I.

(If you want to read Jane's own words I heartily recommend her site Splintered Reflections to you.)

Jane was raped when she was a teenager and in June this year I went to Switzerland and recorded the conversation we had about that time in her life. And a few other times in her life.

Since then, the first edit of what we called why not me? has had many hundreds of listens.

It's a tough story to listen to but an important one.

It's about someone who's survived something.

Someone who's learning to be the fullest version of herself she can be.

Most conversations I record comfortably come down to a short edit of around 15 mins.

But not this one.

After I first let why not me? out of the bag at Latitude Festival this summer, it attracted a lot of attention.

Mostly for very good reasons.

Mostly because Jane's voice is one that people wanted to hear. Because (I think) it's a voice that's capable of bringing hope to anyone whose life has contained some kind of catastrophe; an event from which you might think there is no coming back.

But there is coming back. Plenty of it. And Jane is an example of someone who knows that's true.

So - partly because there was so much interest and partly because the conversation was such a rich one, I've now edited it into four parts.

In Part 1 Jane describes to me in graphic detail the rape itself. It's not an easy listen, so please if you're not in a robust place, think twice before listening to it.

But if you are in a robust place and you choose to take time to listen to someone describe an extraordinary event that you've probably never experienced, I urge you to listen to it. Your understanding and appreciation of what it is to be violated sexually will be that much greater if you listen. And that might change the way you consider things in your own life.

But if you listen to it - or you can download it here - you'll hear more than just a description of an event. You'll hear another human being dealing with what she's describing as she describes it. Change is happening in the conversation.

And it's a dialogue because that's happening.

In Part 2, Jane talks more about the immediate after effects of what she calls 'the attack'. She talks about her reaction to it. Her decision to survive. Her immediate and unconsidered defiance. She talks about the court case. The moment the perpetrator of the rape was convicted. The moment her eyes met his. And of her collapse in the court room as he left.

And then, she describes the realisation - even as she toasted the demise of the prisoner with her friends and family - that her recovery hadn't even really begun.

It's a powerful and compelling unfolding of a life beginning again. There are more details of the rape, more things remembered. Almost nothing forgotten. And a sense of a woman talking so clearly about herself that you can hear the way in which she consciously carries her journey with her every day.

Every day.

You can listen to Part 2 here.

And now today... I'm putting Part 3 out into the world. You can download it here.

In a way, this is the most 'listenable to' part of the conversation. The most ordinary.

In another way it's the most shocking. Precisely because it's the most ordinary.

Jane talks with seering honesty about what might well be construed as an ordinary marriage - is there any such thing? - on the surface. But just beneath the surface, she reveals that there are extraordinary things happening.

Jane describes to me a relationship that's unhealthy, destructive and ultimately doomed to failure but it's a relationship perhaps that many people who haven;t been raped will recognise. A relationship in which one person feels that everything is their fault. The resonance of the rape was ringing into Jane's adult life.

But again... Jane finds the courage to step out of one place and into the next.

She acknowledges that her attitude to men, sex and her own self esteem wasn't what she wanted to be. So she moves on...

And Part 4, is now here.

And after starting our conversation by talking about the act of violence that traumatised Jane as a teenager, we ended up talking about the gentleness of childhood and how she now talks to her children.

There's a short Audioboo here where I talk briefly about the title we've given to our conversation - why not me? - and how it's resonated with me personally.

But now, I just want to say thank you again to Jane, for sharing time with me and for allowing our conversation which felt so intimate and private - to be made public.

Already many people have told us both that just hearing your voice and your 'story' (which of course is not a story but your life) has been an inspiration to people. As life continues to throw its challenges towards you, I wish you all the love in the world.

Let's hope that other people keep thinking. And imagining.

And listening.

And sometimes asking the question: why not me?

Monday, 13 September 2010

green thoughts

I had a very enjoyable day last week working with the good people of Green Alliance, a group of (mostly) young men and women - mostly women actually - whose everyday job is to harness the thinking and energy of various partners and help them to bring big green issues to the ears of those who need to listen.

It all happened at the beautiful location of Bore Place (what a place).

It was fascinating and surprising to see, hear and experience how in some ways they're facing some very old fashioned problems. Issues that you might hope were things of the past but in fact are very much things of the present.

About getting taken seriously.

About getting an inconvenient truth through to a public who'd rather believe a more comfortable set of reassuring lies.

And how to recognise that while your own environment might be one in which trust, respect and open-mindedness are rigorously and consciously applied... the very people you need to reach out to and create dialogue with may not have the same culture.

So that makes your job hard. Really hard.

But it's a job worth doing.

10,000 times over.

So - power to your elbows Green Alliance.

And I'm happy to help you again. Any time.

Oh and I promised you all access to all the podcasts on dialogue...

And here they are.

Now go dialogue the hell out of a few people.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

part 2

So here's the next part of my dialogue with Jane Prinsep which we've called why not me? part 2

You can download it here.

For anyone who's coming to this new, you should know that this dialogue was part of a series of Intimate Conversations on the subject of sex that we recorded in May and June, edited in July and shared initially at Latitude Festival's Fifth Edition earlier this summer in the UK.

And so you know what you're getting into, Jane's story begins with a description of being raped when she was 14.

Her story is a powerful one. And in some ways a disturbing one.

But it's not a story about being a victim. Far from it.

And for me it's not just a story about recovery.

It's about one woman's journey, moving from a time when she had control seized from her in the most horrible way to a place where she reclaims her life, her identity and her future.

Jane is a remarkable woman. I went over to Switzerland to meet her earlier this summer and after lunch by the lake we sat down and recorded a conversation. A dialogue.

Most conversations I record, I subsequently edit down to a 10-15 minutes version and share it with the world. But sometimes a conversation is so rich that it merits more than just a one part. And this is one of those.

Part 1 which you can download here received a lot of attention and downloads and for many people Jane has been already been an inspiration as you'll see by visiting her blog.

So here's Part 2.

Parts 3 and 4 will come in the next few weeks.

Thanks again Jane.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

an audience

So here I am on the brink of going to Edinburgh Festival, to open a play called The Author.

It's a brilliant piece.

There's genuinely nothing I've ever seen that's remotely like it.

The play is about many things. And one of the things it's about is an audience.

What does it mean to be an audience? Not just in a theatre - in our lives.

When we see something - when we witness something, when we meet something, how much of that act are we not just viewing (or hearing) but creating?

In a world of beautiful things like hope, love, care, tenderness, richness, curiosity, pleasure...

How responsible are we for making these things happen? In our every day behaviours? In the way we choose to say hello to the stranger we bump into? In choosing to thank the bus driver? In choosing to smile at someone because we think they're beautiful or brave or simply present?

And in a world of terrible things like terror, fear, violence, despair, illness, depression, war, rape and child abuse...

How responsible are we for making these things happen? In our every day behaviours? Not just in what we choose to do, but also in what we choose not to do? In our choice to ignore the loneliest looking person in a room. In choosing not to ask the question we know might need asking? In our choice to not see what is staring us in the face?

It takes courage to participate. To be with others. To truly be with others. And ourselves.

Every one of these questions is inside the body of The Author.

And every one of these questions has come up in rehearsals for The Author. Some very unexpectedly. But all the more keenly.

So - if you fancy a bit of sensory deprivation, if you want to sit back and let the actors entertain you, if you fancy a night off...

Don't come and see The Author.

Monday, 26 July 2010

tears, gravity and distance

"We are one crew of 6 billion people."

This weekend I enjoyed my first quiet couple of days for a while and a full moon in France.

And I found myself thinking that maybe after all the recent posts and edits on and around the subject of sex, (and don't worry there'll be more coming soon), I though I'd just pop up with something a bit different.

A little something I did a while ago but haven't published until today.

This is something all children can listen to.

And something perhaps all adults should listen to.

This is my conversation with the astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy. 

You can listen to it via my free podcast on iTunes  here and - if you'd like to - read a transcript of it here.

I recorded Jean-Francois in his office in Paris in the Spring of 2010..

His mellifluous French accent serves only to highlight his sense of wonder at the planet's beauty from space.

His passion for the environment comes from a place not many of us will ever have the opportunity to occupy.

He talks with equal dexterity about adventure, borders and fragility.

And finally he shares with me just about as delicate and economic a description of the atmosphere as I could ever imagine hearing.

So - please do enjoy the edit I've called: tears, gravity and distance.

Ceci n'est pas un dialogue. It's an interview.

But like many of the people I've spoken to as part of the Intimate Conversations series, this one-off is a conversation that I feel privileged to have had.

(Note: I also produced a shorter edit of this conversation which was featured on BBC Radio 4's Short Cuts programme broadcast on September 25th 2012. You may even find yourself here for that very reason.) )